original post: http://scgnews.com/east-ukraine-votes-for-independence-but-theres-a-problem
East Ukraine Votes for Independence – But There’s a Problem
Apparently the third time isn’t the charm for the Ukraine’s provisional government in Kiev. Coup appointed ‘authorities’ have attempted to launch three military offensives against dissidents in the east, and each attempt has been a resounding failure. The fact that Sunday’s referendum not only proceeded in spite of the military’s attempt to disrupt voting, but also resulted in a landslide victory for the separatists, speaks for itself.
Of course the U.S. and the E.U., the purveyors of democracy that they are, have declared the referendums illegal and say they will not honor the results. No surprise there.
Russia has declared that they respect the results of the referendum, but they have refrained from any official statement regarding how this will affect the Kremlin’s decision making in practical terms.
“Moscow respects the will of the people in Donetsk and Lugansk and hopes that the practical realization of the outcome of the referendums will be carried out in a civilized manner.” The Kremlin’s press service said on Monday.
Specifically there is the question of whether Donetsk will now join the Russian Federation. Immediately following the referendum the Donetsk People’s Republic declared itself a sovereign state, and someone within the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic sent Moscow a request for accession that same day. Russia has not responded to the request.
This request to join Russia is very problematic. First of all, the referendum did not address such a move at all. The wording that was voted on was the following:
“Do you support the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic?”
The people of eastern Ukraine didn’t vote to join Russia, they voted to form their own republic. They haven’t held an election or even a constitutional convention to determine how the region will organize itself or how decisions will be made. Even if they had conducted elections, sending requesting integration into the Russian Federation isn’t the kind of decision that an elected president could make unilaterally. It would require a second referendum specifically addressing that question.
This is a bait and switch.
People have the right of self determination and Eastern Ukraine voted to take a different path than Kiev, however, to take that vote and stretch the meaning is a big mistake. The West is already looking for any excuse to discredit the referendum, and this gives them ammunition.
Ironically the request to join Russia actually proves that Russia isn’t running the show in the east. Putin would have never have authorized such a foolish move. The request places Russia in a very difficult position diplomatically. On one hand they would obviously like to accept it, but they aren’t stupid. They know that the wording of the referendum didn’t encompass this. They know that those that sent the request are acting unilaterally. Russia can’t accept the request, however they can’t easily reject it either. The last thing Russia wants to do is weaken the Donetsk Republic’s perceived legitimacy, and a public rejection would do just that.
A smarter move for Donetsk would have been to request financial assistance and organizational advice from Moscow to facilitate self rule. Obviously it would be tempting to request military assistance or at least weaponry in the light of the repeated attempts by Kiev to crush the resistance, but such a move would be interpreted as an act of war, and NATO would certainly respond in an aggressive manner. The West is going to do everything in their power to undermine and topple the Donetsk Republic, but unless Russia gives them a good excuse, their range of action will be limited to covert operations, condemnations, and perhaps sanctions.
So what’s next in Ukraine? Well, this is a human drama, and predicting what humans are going to do next is even harder than trying to predict the weather. Putin doesn’t want to risk his credibility on Donetsk prematurely. It is still too early to tell whether the region will be capable of pulling itself together and forming a working government. It would be damaging to Russia’s position if Moscow puts its weight behind the venture, only to have it implode a few months later.
The logical next step for Russia would be to send political advisers to Donetsk so that communication is direct and private. This would avoid awkward mistakes like the improvised (and public) request to join the Russian Federation. In that context that request could be dropped, or even publicly dismissed as the work of an individual acting without authority (which is in fact true). If positioning advisers in eastern Ukraine is isn’t feasible for political reasons, then at the very least representatives from eastern Ukraine should travel to Russia. After all, if they consider themselves a country, establishing a diplomatic mission with their closest neighbor is important.
Russia should also prepare to provide humanitarian support to the region. The provisional government in Kiev will cut utilities if the region breaks away politically. Russia is already having to scramble to replace electric service and water in Crimea after Kiev cut power and water lines to the peninsula. The West would have a difficult time demonizing Russia for helping the people of Donetsk reestablish electricity and running water especially if the work is contracted through the private sector, but providing this kind of logistical support could significantly influence the outcome.
Accepting the request for accession would be a strategic error. It is not in Russia’s interest to take control of a region that is embroiled in a civil war. Doing so would inevitably draw them into an open war with Kiev, which would give NATO a perfect excuse to intervene.
It’s like a game of chess where checkmate is three moves away. One mistake and you’re done for. Only in this game, checkmate is World War three.